Scream, the fifth installment in the popular slasher series, has a scene where a character describes the rules of a movie “re-quel.” Like Ghostbusters: Afterlife, the 2018 Halloween, and Jurassic World, these films have to offer something new, but not too new. They have to mix fresh characters with legacy characters. And, most importantly, they have to treat the original story with respect, so as not to “ruin” the experience fans had with the film as kids. Updating the meta quality of Wes Craven's 1996 classic to address toxic fandom makes this a good Scream movie, although having to adhere to those same rules prevents it from doing anything particularly groundbreaking.
Ghostface is back, and this time he's targeting Sam Carpenter (In the Heights star Melissa Barrera). She has a connection to someone from the original, but we don't need to say who it is here. His first act is attacking her sister Tara (Jenna Ortega). Sam and boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid) seek help from a person who knows all about Ghostface – former lawman Dewey Riley (David Arquette). He advises her that the killer will follow a strict set of movie-related rules, and that the guilty party almost certainly resides within her circle of friends.
As murders begin taking place, a couple other familiar faces show up, namely Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) and, of course, Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell). “This is your life now,” Sidney warns Sam. She tries to act as a mentor, only to have Sam reject the offer of help. Until things get sufficiently bad, that is. The women eventually band together to figure out Ghostface's identity and suss out the motive for all the slayings. Truth be told, it's not hard to pinpoint the killer because, you know, rules.
Toxic fandom has become an annoying trend, especially on social media. Fans make loud demands about what they want. If a movie doesn't give it to them, they piss and moan, and maybe even harass the filmmakers online. (Fan backlash against Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi is directly referenced here.) Given the self-referential, cinema-based nature of the '96 Scream, it feels totally natural for this latest installment to tackle the issue. Ghostface's motive, once revealed, is a wicked satire on the sense of entitlement too many fans feel toward their cherished franchises. The screenplay has something worthwhile to say on the subject.
Scream also does a good job commenting on the re-quel while being an example of the concept. Old and new characters do indeed mix, the story ties into the previous films, and there's reverence in how the plot is structured. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Ready or Not) stage Ghostface's killings in a manner similar to how Craven staged them, with the masked psycho leaping out of unexpected places. Perhaps the best thing is that, whereas the other sequels got bogged down with trying to top each other, this one simply strives to be a solid slasher flick. There's an emotional core here that was missing in Screams 2, 3 and 4.
Despite these good qualities, your enjoyment of Scream will depend on how invested you are in re-quels. Given the talent of the directors, it might have been fun to turn them loose, to let them reimagine the entire franchise however they pleased, with no regard for the expectations of the audience. In other words, the series could have gone down bold new avenues, rather than trotting out the Greatest Hits. And that's really the conundrum with modern-day fandom. People generally don't want boldness anymore. They want to be fed what they already like another time. If we stop valuing originality, cinema is doomed. Every popular IP began because somebody made something that hadn't been made before.
Scream doesn't get quite that deep into the subject. It does, however, deserve credit for recognizing that it exists. The movie is a sturdy chapter in the saga, with effective “kills” and strong performances from Campbell, Cox, and Arquette. The movie will please the fans it was intended to please. As far as re-quels go, it's one of the better examples.
out of four
Scream is rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout and some sexual references. The running time is 1 hour and 54 minutes.